Financial Times examines Google’s ‘secret formula’

In another Google story, the Financial Times (registration required) punctures some of the mythology around the legendary algorithm that powers Google search.

First of all, it’s a work in progress. There were some 500 tweaks to the algorithm last year alone, some of which radically effect online businesses, some of whom are Google competitors.

“Some of those changes may change ranking substantially for some queries – that’s the nature of it,” says Amit Singhal, the Google search expert responsible for the algorithm. But he denies that the search company has any particular class of sites in mind when making changes to the rules that determine how they are ranked, or that it “penalizes” any by singling them out for special treatment.”

That’s a myth, says Dave Sifry, founder of Technorati, a specialized Internet search engine ad Google competitor.

“I don’t think it’s anywhere near being nefarious – but algorithms are not just pure rules that arrive out of nowhere.” By changing its mathematical formula to modify the results returned to a particular query, Google’s engineers are making judgments very similar to the editorial decisions made at a more traditional media organization, he and others argue.”

And, even if Google’s engineers are well-meaning in their approach to the search rankings – as some critics are prepared to concede – their good intentions may not be enough.

“We can’t be sure that Google 10 years from now won’t be corrupt – or that whoever is the dominant search engine won’t be corrupt,” Siva Vaidhyanathan, an associate professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, told the FT.

Published by Margot Williams

Margot Williams has more than two decades of experience in roles as investigative researcher, research editor, database editor, technology trainer and library director at The New York Times, The Washington Post, Gannett newspapers and Time Warner. She was lead researcher on two Pulitzer Prize-winning teams at The Washington Post for reporting on terrorism in 2002 and for an investigation of the use of deadly force by the District of Columbia police in 1999. Margot is the co-author of “Great Scouts! CyberGuides for Subject Searching on the Web” (Cyberage Books, 1999) and contributed to the “Networkings” column in The Washington Post for five years.

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5 Comments

  1. Margot

    I agree that Google probably aren’t being deliberately obstructive but by not allowing you to see all of the deep web they are encouraging conspiracy theories about the algorithm. This of course isn’t helped by the sudden demotion of sites due to changes in the algorithm.

    For any website performing well on Google the trick would be to see into the deep web, filter out the rubbish and identify the influencers who could keep you top of the pile. Can do.

  2. The algorithm is nothing more than an Auction – bidding Model, where
    Google tweaks 15 – 200 parameter within 5 – 7 days. This results in
    “changed” basic ranking on the web. Like Microsoft Office package,
    over 70 % of Google revenue is from “Search Marketing”, either
    “auctioning of keywords / linguistic or sponsored. Therefore, Google
    will always be defying explanation of their “algorithmic model” unless
    and until someone just come up with a different approach to “Search”.
    Google Model is actually a “Capitalist Model” and is heavily biased
    towards – “linguistics on the Internet”. You pay the highest bidding
    and stay on top or optimize and expand your inofrmation on the topic,
    you are into the business.

  3. How can everyone be so trusting?

    Have you ever come across a company that has a accounting department that doesn’t incessantly look at ways of increasing turnover and reducing overhead at the same time?

    No? I haven’t either!

    These guys are fiddling with a multi-million dollar turnover that can increased by tweaks of a search formula.

  4. Glen,

    I run a company entirely based on Semantics. And there are 28
    other European Partners involved in R & D of Semantics. If you
    are an SEO / PPC / Double click expert, i tend to think, you w’d
    know what Semantics is and who are the only three Califonian
    companies involved with Semantics crossing $ 50 Million mark
    in 2010.

    Yes, you are right, Google doesn’t change their algorithm and
    they can’t because than their “Entire database” needs to be
    reprogrammed. This includes over a Million server in U.S alone.
    Google cannot risk their money making machine, so what they do
    is play with 200 web parameter. ( I am sure, being an expert
    you know all about these parameter )

    Facebook took the “individual Search” from Google and Bing
    emphasised on fortune 1500 companies. What we are left with
    to Innovate than ?

    Time is not very far, we w’d all know !!!

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